Boy's Manual of Seamanship and Gunnery

Compass Instruction


Q. What is a compass card?

A. A circular card, by which a ship's course is denoted : it is divided into 32 equal parts, called points ; again divided into 32 equal parts, called half-points ; and again divided into 64 equal parts, called quarter-points, each point being distinguished by a letter or letters.

A. N. S. E. and W. stand for North, South, East, and West ; these are called the cardinal points ; any two or three of these letters, added together, represent the intermediate points, as in the following example :


N. Stands for North.

S. by W., South by West.

N. by E., North by East.

S. S. W., South South-West.

N. N. E., North North-East.

S.W. by S., South-West by South.

N. E. by N., North-East by North,

S. W., South-West.

N . E., Nort-East.

S. W, by W., South-West by West.

N. E. by E., North-East by East.

W. S. W., West South-West.

E. N. E., East North-East.

W. by S., West by South.

E. by N., East by North.

W., West.

E., East.

W. by N. West by North.

E. by S., East by South.

W. N. W., West North-West.

E. S. E., East South-East.

N.W. by W., North-West by West

S. E. by E., South-East by East.

N. W., North-West.

S. E., South-East.

N.W. by N., North-West by North.

S. E. by S., South-East by South.

N. N. W., North North-West.

S. S. E., South South-East.

N, by W., North by West.

S. by E. South by East.

N., North.

S., South.



Repeat it the reverse way.



S. W. by W.

E. S. E.

N. by W.

S. W.

E. by S.

N. N. W.

S. W. by S.


N. W. by N.

S. S. W.

E. by N.

N. W.

S. by W.

E. N. E.

N. W. by W.


N. E. by E.

W. N. W.

S. by E.

N. E.

W. by N.

S. S. E.

N. E. by N.


S. E. by S.

N. N. E.

W. by S.

S. E.

N. by E.

W. S. W.

S. E, by E.


To answer Opposite Points, or what is called Boxing the Compass.

Q. What is the opposite point. to N.E. ?

A. S. W.

With a very little attention to the question, the young beginner will be able to answer any opposite points most readily, always bearing in mind that the letter N. is opposite to S., and E, to W., and remembering that two or three of these letters added together represent all the points of the compass. For instance: E. N. E. is the opposite point to W. S. W. | S. S. E. to N. N. W. | N.E. by E. to S. W. by W. | N.W. by N. to S.E. by S. | N.E. by N. ½ .N. | S. W. by S. ½ S. | W. ½ N. to E. ½ S. | N. ¼ E. to S. ¼ W., and so on, to any point of the compass.


Cardinal Points.

The compass is composed of four letters only - N. S. E. and W., which represent the four cardinal points - viz., North, Mouth, East, and West.

Half-Cardinal Points.

So called because they come halfway between two cardinal points from which they derive their names. Thus, N.E. comes between North and East, and by adding the two letters together, N. E. is produced; in like manner the other half-cardinal points are formed-viz., N.W., S.E., and S.W. There are four half-cardinal points.

False Points.

So called because they borrow their names from the two points between which they come. Thus, N.N.E. comes between North and N.E., and by putting these two points together, taking care to put the letter of the nearest cardinal point first, N.N.E. is produced ; in like manner are all the other false points formed : they are as follows: E.N.E., E.S.E., S.S.E., S.S.W., W.S.W., W.N.W., and N.N.W. There are eight false points.

The By-Points.

So called because they derive their names from the nearest cardinal or half-cardinal points they are near or by. Thus ; N. by E. is by or near North, and taking a direction towards Last becomes N. by E.

N.E. by N. is by or near N.E., but being nearer North than East it becomes N.E. by N.; in like manner all the other by-points derive their name: they are the following: N.E. by E., E. by N., E, by S., S.E. by E., S.E. by S., S. by E., S. by W., S.W. by S., S.W. by W., W. by S., W . by N., N.W. by W., N.W. by, N., and N. by W. - 16 in number.

Half-cardinal points are always four points from a cardinal point ; if a ship's head marks a cardinal point, such, for instance, as North, her stern and either beam will also mark a cardinal point : half-cardinal points marking the two bows and quarters:

For Example.

Ship's head is North, or stern is South, port-beam West, starboard-beam East, port-bow N.W., starboard bow N.E., port quarter S.W., starboard quarter S.E.


Q. How are the points of the compass reckoned ?

A. From North and South, to East and West.

N. by E. | N. by W. | S. by E. | S. by W.…………... One point.

N. N. E. | N. N. W. | S. S. E. | S. S. W........ ………Two points.

N.E. by N. | N.W. by N. | S.E. by S. | S.W. by S. Three points

N. E. | N. W. | S. E. | S. W............ …………Four points.

N.E. by E. | N.W. by W. | S.E. by E. | S.W. by W....Five points

E. N. E. | W. N. W. | E. S. E. | W. S. W..... …………Six points.

E. by N. | W. by N. | E. by S. | W. by S......……… Seven points.

East and West ……… ………….. Eight points.

Q. How close to the wind will a ship lay?

A. When the sails are well set, a ship is supposed to lay five points from the wind, but in most cases it is six points.

Q. Supposing a ship to lay five points from the wind, how many will she tack in ?

A. Ten points.

Q. How many will she wear in ?

A. Twenty-two points.

Q. What do you mean by tacking a ship ?

A. Supposing a ship to be sailing close to the wind on the starboard tack, laying S. E. by E., the wind would he South. By manoeuvring the helm and sails, she is brought head to wind, and paid off on the port tack, until the sails are again full, or her head is S. W. by W. ; she would then lie on the port tack, supposing the wind to be steady, and the ship would work in ten points or lie five points from the wind.

Q. What is the meaning of a ship being on the port or starboard tack ?

A. It is said a ship is on the port tack when she has her port tacks on board, or the wind is blowing five points on the port bow, which is called the weather bow.

Q. What do you mean by the weather and lee bow, and how are they distinguished?

A. The weather bow or side of a ship is the side on which the wind blows. The lee bow or side will, of course, be the opposite to that from which the wind blows. The sheets of fore and aft sails are hauled aft on the lee side.

Q. What is the meaning of wearing a ship?

A. To run her off before the wind, and bring her to the wind on the other tack.

Q. What do you mean by steering a ship ?

A. To move her head in any particular direction, or keep her on any given course.

Q. How is a ship's head moved or kept in any particular direction ?

A. By means of the helm, which is composed of the rudder, tiller, or yoke, tiller ropes, and wheel.

All ships are fitted with tillers, with the exception of screw ships, which are, according to the space abaft the screw chamber, fitted either with a tiller or yoke. A single block is seized on the foremost end of the tiller, when shipped before the rudder head, and on the after end of the tiller when shipped abaft the rudder head ; yokes have generally two metal sheaves fitted at each end.

Tiller ropes are rove the same way in all ships, whether fitted with a tiller or yoke, so the movement of the wheel will be alike in all ships.

Q. How do you know in what direction a ship is steering ?

A, By means of lubber's point and the compass card.

Q. What is lubber's point?

A. A black line drawn down the centre of the metal bowl in which the compass card is shipped, in a direct line with the ship's head, and as the ship's head moves to the right or the left, the compass card revolves past the line called lubber's point, whatever point of the compass cuts this line, denotes the course the ship is steering.

Q. What is the meaning of luff, or giving a ship lee helm, or putting the helm down?

A. To bring the ship's head nearer the wind.

Q. What is the meaning of " keep her away," or "give her weather helm," or " putting the helm up" ?

A. To run the ship's head off the wind.

Q. What is the meaning of " very well thus," " thus and no higher"?

A. Her head is in a very good direction, but you are not to bring her any closer the wind.


Q. What is the meaning of " nothing off"?

A. To keep the ship's head as close to the wind as possible without shaking the sail.

Q. If a ship's head is S.E., and she is on the starboard tack, laying five points from the wind, how is the wind ?

A. S. by W.

Q. If she was on the port tack, how would the wind be ?

A. E. by N.

Q. If her head is East, and she is on the port tack, how is the wind ?

A. N.E. by N.

Q. If she was on the starboard tack with her head East?

A. S.E. by S.

Q. If her head was W.S.W. on the port tack, and the ship was close to the wind, which would be S. by W., and you were on the look out at the masthead, and saw a ship bearing West, or on any of the following bearings, how would you report her?

A. If bearing W., two. points on the lee bow.

If she bore W.N.W., four points on the lee bow.

If she bore S.S.E., on the weather beam.

If she bore N.E., on the lee quarter.

If she bore E.N.E., right astern.

If she bore S.E., two points abaft the weather beam.

If she bore S.S.W., four points on the weather bow.

Q. What do you call right abeam?

A. Eight points from right ahead ; for instance, if a ship's head is North, East and West is right abeam.

Q. If a ship is lying N.W. on the starboard tack, and you are ordered to keep her away four points, how will her head be when kept away as ordered?

A. West.

Q. Supposing a ship is steering West, or any of the following courses : N.W. | E.N.E. | S.S.E. | N.E. by N. | S. by W. ½ W. | E. ¾ N. | W. ¼ S., how many points is she steering from North or South ?

A. If W., 8 points | N.W., 4 points | E.N.E., 6 points | S.S.E., 2 points | N.E. by N., 3 points | S, by W. ½ W., 1½ points | E. ¾ N., 7¼ points | W. ¼ S., 7¾ points.

Q. You say a ship's course is denoted in any direction she may be steered by the compass, which is a circular card : explain how this is done ?

A. A compass card, mounted on a magnetic bar of steel, after being properly adjusted, is placed on a pivot in the centre of a metal bowl, the inside of which is painted white, a black line being marked down from top to bottom of the bowl: and exactly in the line of the ship's head or bows, which is called the lubber's points ; the card is supposed, when 'on the pivot, to point to the magnetic North and South, without it is attracted by any local cause, which is called deviation. The bowl containing the compass is hung on jimbles, in a wooden frame called binnacle ; and by moving the rudder by means of the tiller or wheel, a ship's head is put in any direction desired.




Any person directing the person directing the helmsman how to put the helm, is said to be conning the ship.

Starboard Tack.

A ship sailing with the wind blowing against the starboard side, with her starboard tacks hauled on board, and her port sheets hauled aft, is said to be on the starboard tack.

Port Tack.

Everything being the exact opposite to the starboard tack.

Tacking. Staying. Going About.

Is an evolution performed by manoeuvring the sails and helm, by which means a ship is made to pass round head to wind from one tack to the other.

Working or Beating to Windward. Tack and Half-Tack. Making a Long and Short Board. Making a Long and Short Leg.

Signifies a vessel proceeding as nearly as possible in the direction from which the wind blows by constantly tacking.

On a Wind. By a Wind. Close Hauled. Full and By. On a Bowline.

Trimming the sails with the yards braced up sharp, and the bowlines hauled, to enable the ship to sail as close the wind as possible.

Hauling to the Wind.

Bringing a ship's head as close to the wind as possible, by bracing the yards up, &c., and giving her lee helm.

Luff. Give her Lee Helm. Put the Helm down.

To bring a ship's head close to the wind.

[I suspect that 2 pages may be missing here ie pp 207 - 208]

Port the Helm.

If standing the port side of the wheel, turn it from you, if on the starboard side, pull it towards you, the tiller going to port, the rudder to starboard, a ship with headway will pay off to starboard.

A ship having sternway the helm has the opposite effect to headway ; therefore her head pays off in the same direction as the tiller, and a contrary direction to that in which the rudder is placed.

Right the Helm. Put the Helm Amidships.

Is an order given when the helm is either to starboard or port, and the rudder is required at once to be placed in a line with the ship's keel.

^ back to top ^